Monday, February 10, 2014

Human Resources Thought Diversity

By: Gary J. Salton, Ph.D.
Chief: Research and Development
Professional Communications, Inc.


This study uses 2,195 observations from 430 different organizations in 26 different countries as a lens to examine Human Resource thought diversity. The research focuses on non-supervisory HR professionals responsible for the actual delivery of services. The diversity of thought affects how HR is seen, how it is managed as well as its ability to function as a cohesive unit.
Click icon to see video

A companion video examines thought diversity on a broader scale. It uses a 11,627sample from 13 distinct staffs. Thought diversity is shown to be a variable that depends on the nature of the job being done. Too much thought diversity compromises coordination.  Too little limits effectiveness.

Thought diversity shapes the way a subject is operationally understood. It is determined by the variables considered, by the method of assessment and by the intended course of action. These factors are taken into account within the information-processing framework of “I Opt” technology.

Figure 1

The input variable in Figure 1 defines what is considered to be relevant to the issue at hand.  Some people will look at a subject in detail; others will focus on general aspects. Some will relate an item to other things; others will view the subject in isolation.  These input elections determine the scope within which a subject is understood.
Output preferences set direction. Some people form plans. Others will act without the need for consideration.  Some people stress speed. Others emphasize reliability. Some people measure success by volume. Others gauge success by quality. Output is what other people see. Some elections will display thought.  Others will display action. The balance of these choices determines the “personality” of the individual and the character of the relationships within a group.
Process is the link between inputs available and the output possibilities. “I Opt” addresses this the same way Einstein handled space-time in physics. Process tells input what to look for and accept. It then tells output what is possible based on the input available.  It iteratively bounces between input and output until a satisfactory combination is achieved. What is “satisfactory” ultimately determines the final position on an issue. 
Anything and everything must go through “I Opt” paradigm to find any social expression whatsoever. Variation in that social expression is what is called thought diversity. Thought diversity will always be present. The only question is one of degree. 

The popular business press treats thought diversity as a universal good. “I Opt” technology views it as a tool. It should be deployed when it serves an objective. It should be restrained when it frustrates it.
Thought diversity is of value when addressing vague, wide-ranging or multidimensional issues.  These conditions create uncertainty. Different “understandings” can improve the odds that one or another option will offer the best solution. 

But thought diversity is not free. Differing understandings compromise coordination. Positions must be argued out and reconciled. If working on a well defined issue this is an unnecessary expense. For example, how much thought diversity do you want around an operating table during brain surgery?

Viewing thought diversity as a tool implies the need for some kind of quantitative measure.  There must be a basis to determine how much diversity is “right” for a particular function.

“I Opt” converts the basic information-processing model into four patterns of behavior called “strategic styles.” These styles can be measured exactly. The first 5 minutes of the Team Tension video (see #1 in Footnotes) explains how this is done. 

Table1 shows how “I Opt” measurements can be converted into a percent of a possible maximum. These can then averaged to get a measure for an entire group.

Table 1

Thought diversity is simply the inverse of commonality. It is lowest when one style had 100% commitment.  Everyone approaches issues in the same way. Thought diversity is highest when each of the four styles is has an equal 25% commitment. Here there would no initial agreement on how an issue should be approached.
The absolute “distance” (i.e., ignoring the sign or direction of difference) of each style to all others creates an index. The range of the index is between 0 and 300.  Table 2 shows this calculation using the sample group from Table 1.

Table 2 
Percentage POINT Difference in “I Opt” Scores


The probability of a group being 100% thought diverse or 100% identical is vanishingly small. There is also no a priori reason to expect any particular distribution of diversity scores. However, using a database of 2,137 real world teams (sizes 2 to 33 people) thought diversity levels actually being used in the field can be calculated to give an indication of a “normal” level.  Graphic 1 shows this distribution.
Graphic 1

Earlier studies have shown that different organizational levels tend to favor particular thought patterns (see Organizational Rank and StrategicStyle--#2 in footnotes). Including management in a sample would increase the commonality and understate diversity.  Therefore this study confined itself to non-management professionals. 

Thirteen recognized professional functions were used as a context for HR.  The results shown in Table 3 show the staffs arranged in order of increasing commonality (lessening thought diversity).
Table 3


It is useful to confirm the viability of the sample being used. Graphic 2 contrasts the Diversity Index of the sampled staffs to the more wide-ranging sample of the 2,137 teams (Graphic 1).  Graphic 2 shows that the distribution geometry of the two groups is of roughly the same character.  The difference in the height of the curves is due to sample size. Percentages get bigger when the denominator smaller (13 staffs vs. 2137 teams). Overall, the Diversity Index appears to be a reasonably valid measure of staff diversity.

Graphic 2 

People judge things using their daily experience rather than absolute standards. The average value of the Thought Diversity Index for all staffs is a reasonable expression of this “normal” level. Converting staff scores from Table 3 into percentages of this average gives an understandable graphical image of thought diversity. This is shown in Graphic 3.

Graphic 3

The high diversity of Sales/Marketing is not surprising. The sales component faces the outside world. It must meet the needs and expectations of a variety of customers. The marketing element must accommodate a host of different media with their different marketing standards. In this situation thought diversity has high value.
On the other side, medical’s high commonality position is also expected. This category consists primarily of nurses. They are bound by strict requirements on what must be done and when to do it.  Similarly the rules, contracts and accounting conventions act to bind Finance/Accounting into a degree of commonality. Job constraints rather than personal elections are what appear to cause professionals in these high commonality areas to adopt similar methods.
Human Resources is the anomaly.  Popular perception is that HR tends toward a confined perspective.  Finding it among the most highly thought diverse of the staffs warrants for further exploration. 

Larger HR functions usually combine two distinct groups.  Traditional HR consists of activities needed to keep an organization functioning.  Learning & Development (L&D) focuses on improving personal and organizational capacities. Table 4 compares the level of thought diversity in these two components.

Table 4

The difference in thought diversity is obvious at a glance.  Traditional HR is over twice as likely to adopt a common posture as is L&D.  Graphic 4 plots thought diversity with traditional HR and L&D considered as unique staff functions.

Graphic 4 

L&D is by far the most diverse of any of the staff groups. It is 62.4% more diverse than the average of all staffs. But even traditional HR is 10.6% more diverse than the overall staff average. The reason is not difficult to find.
The raw material of both HR components—the human being--is the most complex entity in the known universe. The materials of the engineer do not change their mind as they move from one product to another.  The debits and credits of the accountants do not change relative position in the general ledger regardless of where or when they are viewed. The manufacturing production line is in the same place and moves in the same direction day after day.  The raw material of HR has none of this built-in consistency. It is the only raw material that can change its mind. This variability tends to place high value on thought diversity.

Graphic 5 highlights the difference between traditional HR and Learning & Development.

Graphic 5 

L&D is almost 25% more inclined to use the idea generating RI strategy. Traditional HR invests about 13% more in precise execution (LP) and 10% more in deeper analysis (HA).  This tradeoff makes sense. Policies, labor laws and other constraints limit traditional HR’s ability to successfully innovate. Lessened ability to innovate focuses attention toward excellence in planning (HA) and execution (LP).

Graphic 5 presents the two components of HR as if they are uniform entities. That is not the case. Both groups are themselves composed of subunits. Each of these subgroups has their own degree of thought diversity. The “I Opt” style profile lets us divide these subunits into groups that share roughly common approaches. The result of this categorization for Traditional HR is shown in Graphic 6.

Graphic 6

Graphic 6 plots the “I Opt” scores for various Traditional HR subunits—the flatter the curve, the greater the thought diversity. People within each of the categories use a roughly similar approach. Between these groups the approach varies.  A HR Consultant (Group 1) might work with someone in Comp/Benefits (Group 3). Group 1 people are likely to offer speculative ideas and expedient solutions. People in Group3 will favor proven methods and exacting solutions. This consequence of thought diversity must be sorted out before an issue can be discharged.

Any staff has a degree of thought diversity.  But HR is unique. Whatever HR is working on it is likely to involve people outside of HR. These people will probably pick up on the different positions among the HR components. The resultant inconsistencies tend to play out in the arena of the larger organization. Negative HR attributions are easy to make and are likely to be widely circulated.

 Graphic 7

Graphic 7 shows the degree of variation between categories within L&D.  The divergence of subgroups mirrors Traditional HR. But Traditional HA tends to have a greater immediate impact on external people. This creates a greater motive to highlight inconsistencies.  Traditional HR is likely to be the subject of higher levels of negative attribution.
Issues embedded thought diversity tend to leak into culture. Culture is defined as common beliefs, values and behaviors. Different “I Opt” profiles carry with them expectations. These expectations translate into values. The values of the staffs being managed affect local cultures and managerial strategies.
For example, people holding high levels of LP are likely to view precision and predictability as qualities to be prized.  People with high levels of idea oriented RI will likely see creativity as a universal good. The strong HA will probably see analysis as the “right” way to evaluate a situation—any situation. The RS is likely to view “let’s give it a try” experimentation as the “true” way to validate matters. Words like “right”, “true”, “always” and “universal” imply embedded values. With these values comes a managerial headache.
The challenge faced by the HR executive boils down to balance. Higher levels of thought diversity make coordination more difficult.  It weakens predictability. Different positions need to be sorted out.  Sorting out takes both time and effort.  These factors all tend to compromise efficiency. Thought diversity is not free.
Offsetting these costs are advantages. Thought diversity creates options and opportunities. It also facilitates flexibility—there is usually someone around able to do any particular job. HR has and is living in a period of change. Change creates new needs. The positives associated with thought diversity can help HR address changing conditions.
Why HR ranks at the highest level of thought diversity is no accident. The nature of HR’s diverse responsibilities launches the need. The variable nature of HR’s raw material magnifies it. Finally the rapidly changing economic, social and legal environments—all of which directly impact HR—make thought diversity a virtual survival requirement.

Every staff has a level of thought diversity. HR is unique only in the fact that its level is higher than others. The positive elements of HR’s higher level of thought diversity are unlikely to be visible. HR’s ability to handle diverse responsibilities and address unexpected situations will probably be invisible to outsiders.
The negative elements probably stand out in relief. Inconsistency, lessened predictability and less than ideal coordination are likely to be enough to single it out for criticism—whether justified or not. This result is embedded in the structure of the HR job.

An earlier study (“Human Resources VP’s Seat at the Table”- see #3 in footnotes) has shown that HR Vice Presidents are as well-equipped as any other VP—with one exception. They lack the ability to accurately predict outcomes. That study argued that this condition was due to the lack of a metric that could be relied upon. The earlier study offered one such metric. This study offers another.
This new metric can enable HR executives to predict the dynamics in many situations. Probable outcomes of these dynamics also become reasonably predictable (see #4 in footnotes). Cost-benefit calculations become more accurate and reliable.
Predictability also means that the likely outcome can be identified and rationally explained. This can help align expectations.  More accurate expectations translate into fewer bases of stress and disagreement.
Transparency becomes possible with the availability of a metric. Differences in judgement on issues can be explained. For example, Comp & Benefits need for methodical precision becomes obvious. The OD Consultant would probably still prefer a “let’s give it a try” approach. But knowledge that the other position has a rational foundation will at least temper unfavorable judgements.
Knowledge of “who is what” also offers a framework for task allocation. An issue needing creative options might be channeled to someone using higher levels of the RI style.  A person favoring HA thought pattern might be channeled toward matters involving complex assessment. Each of the “I Opt” styles has value that can be realized if applied to the right issues. Improperly applied they can lead to both personal and organizational dysfunction.
Knowledge of thought diversity provides a solid foundation for mutual respect. Fact-based reasoning replaces emotional admonitions. Increased predictability limits disjoints and disappointments. These are factors that can give rise to unnecessary tensions and their dysfunctional companion behaviors. Knowing the source of the condition and what it foretells opens the door for effective managerial strategies to be applied within HR.
The “I Opt” metric of thought diversity also offers the HR executive a vehicle for providing definitive advice to other organizational units. Recommendations can be articulated with precision. They can be justified with hard facts. Alternatives can be weighed. The technology is universal. It can be applied anywhere and at any level.  It is a worthwhile tool to keep in the organizational development toolbox.


(1)   “Team Tension – Causes and Management” video can be found in the Coffee Break Videos section of or on YouTube at A textual version can be found on our Google Research Blog at

(2)   “Organizational Rank and Strategic Style” video found in the Coffee Break Videos section of or on YouTube at A textual version can be found on our Google Research Blog at

(3)   “Human Resources VP’s Seat at the Table” study can be found on our Google Research Blog at

(4)    “I Opt” technology offers a variety of tools specifically designed to assess and predict the likely functioning of groups. These include TeamAnalysis, LeaderAnalysis and a host of other tools all of that incorporate thought diversity as a central component of their analytical paradigm.